by Mario "Game" Granata
The architect of the Buffalo Bills, Doug Whaley in his efforts to assemble a winning team is repeating what he has seen during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2000s. See some of the players that resemble the offensive play makers for those teams.
Comparisons, especially in the NFL, are made on a daily basis, and when looking at the Buffalo Bills going into the 2014 season, and the offensive players that they have on this team, it seems that we as NFL fans have seen this before. There are 6 members of the current Buffalo Bills offense, more notably the skill players that resemble players that have been in the league before, either by stature, production, or overall personality. For the decade beginning the millennium, Doug Whaley had a front row seat for the production and the personnel for the Pittsburgh Steelers (as even longer than that being a Pittsburgh native) and saw what it took to put a winning, productive team together. While his influence directly was on defense, he saw what the Steelers offense brought to the table practice after practice, game after game, year after year, and it seems that he is trying to re-create that here in Buffalo. Now, if you have been tuning into the Hashtag Sports shows, some of this information will sound familiar, and if you want to check out the Episodes Index of the Hashtag page, you can listen to the Buffalo Bills Breakdown for more information, but let us take a look at some of the comparisons.
EJ Manuel and Ben Roethelisberger. Watching film on EJ Manuel prior to the 2013 Draft, I thought there were some similarities to Big Ben. Tall quarterback, not very heralded coming out of college, and could make some plays with his legs if he needed to. If you check their combine stats, they are nearly identical, but the one glaring fact that I pulled out of the interviews with EJ and Ben is that these are two highly intelligent football players. They both understand that being a quarterback in the NFL is going to be very challenging, and being the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers adds just a little more pressure. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a rich history, and when you get drafted to play quarterback for a franchise that had a quarterback who won 4 Super Bowls, you are going to be held to that standard, if you like it or not. For EJ, he was challenged in a different way. A franchise that had fallen on hard times, and hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, every pass, drop back, and decision was going to be scrutinized by everyone in Western New York. Although he played through an injury ridden season, and comparing his first 10 starts to Roethelisberger’s first 10, he had more attempts, completions, and yards. While the teams performance differed, these two quarterbacks have the shoulders to hold up an entire city…because they have to.
Stevie Johnson and Santonio Holmes. Two of the most polarizing receivers of their teams, Johnson and Holmes are very comparable for how they play the game. Now, before you start in on Stevie’s twitter rants or his big game drops, his performance, when compared to Holmes on how they play the game is very similar. Both can get open off the line, provide headaches for opposing defensive coordinators, and despite the criticism that has befallen Stevie, he has put up more productive seasons than Holmes. In 7 complete seasons (not barring injury or playing less than 50% of the time) Holmes has produced only one 1,000 yard season, and Johnson has put up 3 1,000 yard seasons in 4 years. One could argue that Holmes was in purgatory in New York, but, as Buffalo Fans know, the revolving door of quarterbacks in Orchard Park hasn’t been much better. Also, Johnson has done this while being the #1 receiver, playing on the outside a majority of his career. His natural position is in the slot, and can provide a matchup nightmare for anyone and with the receivers that the Bills currently have, he might be given the chance to do so.
Robert Woods and Hines Ward. Two players, who are also very comparable in size, speed, and how they play the wide receiver position. Ward played the game with a chip on his shoulder, and the most memorable trait that Ward possessed was his ability to block and get his nose dirty. Woods played special teams this year, and although Buffalo’s running backs didn’t make it to the second level much this past season, when looking at film of Woods, he is a tremendous run blocker. Woods and Ward didn’t have an immediate impact in their rookie campaigns, but as the years progressed, we all were witness to what Ward brought to the table, and Woods is cut from the same cloth. When you couple the tough nosed mentality with a fearless approach to going over the middle, it’s very easy what the Buffalo Bills have in Robert Woods.
Marquise Goodwin and Mike Wallace. The first noun that you think about when you hear both of these names is ‘speed’. Both of these receivers possess blazing speed that can remove the cover off of any defense in the NFL, and while Goodwin is a shade shorter than Wallace, he is just as, if not more physical than the man who took his talents to South Beach. Like Woods and Ward, these two didn’t have amazing rookie seasons, but when you possess Olympic speed, and the ability to harness that speed within the confines of a 120 x 53 yard field, the sky is the limit. Mike Wallace proved that he belonged in the NFL during his second season with the Steelers, and if Goodwin’s rookie year told Bills fans anything, it’s that the best is yet to come.
Scott Chandler and Heath Miller. If the cliché around the NFL is that the ‘Tight End is the Security Blanket for Young Quarterback’, then Ward and eventually Woods would fall into the ‘pacifier’ category. Chandler holds a side advantage over Miller, and when Miller missed some time, Roethelisberger's timing was just a little bit off. Now, much like Stevie Johnson, Chandler received some criticism this year for some miscues, but was still able to lead the team in receptions despite working with 3 different quarterbacks. When you look at their per year averages, there isn’t much separation between the two. During Miller’s 9 seasons with the Steelers, he averaged 52 receptions, 586 yards, and an 11.3 per catch average. In Chandler’s 3 seasons with the Bills, he has averaged 44 receptions, 538 yards, and a 12.3 per catch average. Chandler, some could argue, being 6’7” and 270 pounds gives the Bills more stability in short yardage for run plays as well.
Ramses Barden and Plaxico Burress. I like to call this one the ‘Wild Card’. Just one look at Barden and Burress you would think that there is a mirror in the room. Now, Burress had some trouble adjusting to the NFL game (and some off the field issues) but was able to put together his most productive season, catching a career high 12 touchdowns during his 8th year in the league. Now, Barden has had some questions marks about him as well as far as health issues, but a 6’6” wide receiver with long arms is just what the Buffalo Bills have been looking for, and while Burress was the first draft pick that the Steelers took when Whaley joined them, maybe, just maybe, he is trying to rekindle that player in Buffalo.
Now there has been a lot of talk about who the Buffalo Bills are going to take with the 9th pick overall in the 2014 draft, and while some people will speak of Mike Evans and Eric Ebron one cannot discount who is guiding the ship here in Buffalo: Doug Whaley. Now, looking at the players that he was able to see in Pittsburgh, as far as the pass catchers and quarterbacks are concerned, maybe Whaley thought to himself, “What if I had all the receivers that I was able to see in Pittsburgh, in Buffalo at the same time?” There are some comparisons to be made with who the Buffalo Bills have drafted and acquired over the past two seasons, and those Steelers teams of the 2000’s that ended up winning two Super Bowls. As Bills fans we have been waiting, patiently, for 14 seasons to return to the playoffs, and maybe if the Bills are to make history, they will have to start by repeating it.